Mark Pappenheim on classical music

'Smash Crash Splatter Kerack. Truncheons thwack, heads crack. The authentic sounds of the militant police state as transmuted through the rampant left-wing paranoia of the dying years of Thatcherite misrule. How many other composers' first operas have had to carry a warning about offensive language?

Yet, six years on from Greek, his violent operatic vision of an East End Oedipus (text courtesy of Steven Berkoff), Mark-Anthony Turnage (right) has almost managed to live down his image as the bad boy from Grays, the headbanging young pretender whose music owed more to Miles Davis and the blues than to Mozart and the Three Big Bs.

Yes, the saxes still wail, the blue notes still bend, and the rhythms still beat, but there's a mellowness about the music now. Melody even. Maybe it's simply a matter of maturity: the bad boy is now all of 34 years old. But maybe it has more to do with the past four years spent as composer-in-association with Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. There's nothing like knowing their audience (and their players) for bringing composers back to a sense of their communicative responsibilities, and nothing like appearing alongside the standard repertoire for anchoring them back into tradition. What Thatcher might have called responding to market forces.

Not that Turnage has turned coat comple-

tely. In his latest Birmingham piece, Drowned Out, receiving its London premiere at the Proms this week, the title puns both on the drowning hero of William Golding's novel, Pincher Martin, and on the drowning-out of the rest of the orchestra beneath a surging sea of brass. Who else would bring on the climax with the orchestral marking 'very nasty? As they say, you can't keep a bad boy down.

Thursday 7.30pm Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, SW7 (071-589 8212) and live on Radio 3

(Photograph omitted)

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